Murder mystery book reviews

Falling in Love by Donna Leon

Donna Leon’s murder mysteries are set in contemporary Venice.  In this latest mystery, Inspector Brunetti and his wife attend the opera to hear Flavia Petrelli sing the lead role in Tosca.  After the show, the Inspector and his wife go back to Flavia’s dressing room which is overflowing with yellow roses.

An anonymous fan has been showering Flavia with these beautiful gifts in London, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, and now, Venice, but she no longer feels flattered. A few nights later, invited by Brunetti to dine at his in-laws’ palazzo, Flavia confesses her alarm at these excessive displays of adoration. And when a talented young Venetian singer who has caught Flavia’s attention is savagely attacked, Brunetti begins to think that Flavia’s fears are justified in ways neither of them imagined. He must enter in the psyche of an obsessive fan before Flavia, or anyone else, comes to harm.

This is a delightful book because not only do you have to solve a mystery you get a sense of place (Venice) and the challenges of living in a country and city that don’t really function well.   Donna Leon has written about two dozen of these books all set in and around Venice.

The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

This is the first in a series of murder mysteries set in Laos. The lead character is Dr. Siri.   He is a doctor who became a communist because his girl friend was.    That was thirty years ago when the communists were fighting the French and the King of Laos.

Now that the Communists have taken power (1975), Dr. Siri, who is 72 and a widower, is ready for retirement.  Instead he is made the chief coroner of Laos (there is only one in the country).  Dr. Siri has a staff of two, limited supplies and a young boss who wants quick results.    Dr. Siri tries to solve the mysterious deaths of various individuals while being flown to various parts of the country to solve unusual events.    He also has to deal with a nosy neighbor and the assorted strange people who have not fled the country to Thailand.

He has to navigate the dangerous undercurrents of political intrigue, covering up of certain deaths while trying to do his job.  The book is not long but it is well written and worth a read.

Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill

2nd in a series of murder mysteries set in Laos with Dr. Siri as the lead character. This time, there are mysterious deaths that could be the result of a loose bear but before Dr. Siri can solve this mystery he has to travel to Luang Prabang the royal capital to solve some more mysteries deaths.

This story gets complicated as it involved Russian advisors, the former King of Laos, the spirit world and the difficulty of governing a country after the revolution succeeds.    Dr. Siri and his staff are learning how to solve murders under the most difficult situations since in many cases, the government  does not want to know what really happened.   The author has a sense of humor as he will occasionally compare Dr. Siri to Maigret the famous literary French detective.    Nurse Dtui’s character has to deal with the illness of her mother and her efforts to get a scholarship to Russia to become a doctor.

 Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill

In this 3rd novel in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series, Dr. Siri & nurse Dtui have been dispatched to NE Laos to investigate a body that has been covered by a rock and buried in cement.   In this strangest novel yet, Dr. Siri has to deal not only with determining the identity of the dead body, he has to unravel a series of mysteries involving Cubans, the Vietnamese military and even the possibility of Black Magic.

To complicate the situation, Dr. Siri most solve the mystery in about a week before a major concert takes place where the murders occur.  Dr. Siri & Nurse Dtui grow as characters as this novel progresses.    While in Vientiane, the morgue assistant has been sent to the country by the minister of Justice while Dr. Siri is out of town.  The author gives Dr. Siri & Nurse Dtui a biting wit while dealing with complicated political situations.

The Devils of Cardona by Mathew Carr

A novel set in 16th Century Spain. A judge, Bernardo Mendoza and his staff are sent to the Kingdom of Aragon to investigate the murder of a priest.   As the investigation deepens, the judge uncovers a  much more serious situation including allegations of heresy.   While trying to get answers, he has to also deal with the Inquisition which has its own agenda. This is an excellent first novel about a troubled time in Spanish history.